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KEY DATES FOR WIMBLEDON 2017

Qualifying begins: 26 June

The Draw: 30 June

Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July

Order of Play: 2 July

Championships begin: 3 July

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News
Tuesday, 11 July 2017 18:08 PM BST
Ostapenko enjoys Centre stage despite defeat
French Open champion beaten by Williams but still looking on the bright side READ MORE

The resilience of youth is a useful weapon, in defeat as much as victory. That much was clear from Jelena Ostapenko’s robustly cheerful demeanour, a couple of hours after her 6-4, 7-5 quarter-final defeat by Venus Williams.

Just last month she won Roland Garros, to make a Grand Slam the first title of her entire career, lifting the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen with the unthinking merriness of any 20-year-old who has yet to understand that time is finite. At Wimbledon 2017, that blitheness was in evidence again after the Latvian’s debut appearance not only in the last eight here, but also on the Centre Court.

It seemed hardly to make any impression on her that victory over Venus would have seen her break into the top 10 for the first time. It was not to be, in this match. But everything about Ostapenko announced that the new mark will be reached very soon.

“It was really nice to play on Centre Court,” she said, in a masterpiece of understatement. “I played on No.1 Court last year in mixed doubles. This time a lot of people were watching. I enjoyed it. Hopefully I can play there again.”

Those seeking revealing introspective detail from Ostapenko’s public utterances at this stage of her career are likely to search in vain – a wholly positive trait, given her chosen profession. At present she seems to be skipping along, untroubled by cares of any sort, disinclined to ponder life’s variables. It is not through wisdom but innocence that she is the living embodiment of Rudyard Kipling’s instruction to treat triumph and disaster just the same – and had she glanced up on entering the Centre Court today, she would of course have seen the famous legend inscribed over the doorway to the hallowed turf. Just don’t ask her to muse on Kipling’s words. As a leading nominee for the world’s least tortured soul, she wouldn’t know where to start.

It was also a good match today for me. I wish I could play better because, I mean, I was not playing bad, but I was just not playing the way I wanted to play today.

- Jelena Ostapenko

One journalist asked what Venus meant to her – a clear invitation to muse on the five-time Wimbledon winner’s greatness in some depth. Instead Ostapenko replied brightly: “I mean, she's a great player. It was also a good match today for me. I wish I could play better because, I mean, I was not playing bad, but I was just not playing the way I wanted to play today. I wasn't serving so well. But I hope we'll play more matches and I can perform better.”

And again, invited to imagine reaching a semi-final here as a 37-year-old, she chirruped helpfully: “I mean, I think her best surface is grass court because she won I think five Grand Slams here. It's one of her best surfaces. I think she has pretty good chances to win this title, as well.”

One more time, asked to describe what it was like to take on a player who made her Wimbledon debut in the same month that Ostapenko was born, the Latvian replied: “You mean Venus? As I say, she's a great player. Of course, I wanted to show my best today. But I think she played really well, as I said. Because I was watching her first matches, like couple of matches this tournament, and I think every match she was playing better and better. Especially she was serving very well today.”

It is important to emphasise that there is no criticism in making these observations of Ostapenko. Elite sport can sometimes produce uncomfortably sophisticated young adults, whose glacially polished responses can leave journalists three times their age feeling gauche.

There is none of that with Ostapenko. From her green-painted fingernails to the chatty fluency of her sweetly artless replies, she is exactly what a 20-year-old should be. If it’s urbanity you’re looking for, or wit, or invention, or creativity, or a thousand other qualities, then save your questions for when Ostapenko walks on a tennis court. With a racket in her hand, one of these days she’s going to have all the answers.

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